I have avoided Swiss chard since I was a child. The other day I was visiting Edmonds resident Melissa Mearns and she reached down and picked a stock from her garden. When she offered it to me, I reluctantly took a small bite. Surprised to find it refreshing and sweet, I continued to munch as we completed the tour of her yard, Rubberneck Farms.
I went home and reported on Facebook that my world had been enlarged. About 20 friends responded, giving recipes and praising the nutritional value of chard.
Melissa and Mike Mearns have been operating Rubberneck Farms for a year. The name is somewhat deceptive because their garden is only about a 10th of an acre, but it kept their Edmonds neighbors supplied with fresh produce last summer. Rows of chard, kale and onions have survived the winter and are still growing.
The Mearns are part of a loosely organized group of community-minded folks who like to grow food and believe it should be consumed locally. About 90 percent of the food grown in Snohomish County is currently shipped elsewhere.
“We have a shared vision of Edmonds — what it must have looked like back in the day when people grew their own food. A lot of the properties still sit on large lots with landscaping,” said Melissa.
“What if we could change the way people get their food?” Mike chimed in. “There is a huge movement going on now, obviously. People are starting to realize that they don’t have to get their food from other people and places. They can get it right here.”
In addition to providing nourishment, the Mearnses’ neighborhood vegetable stand promoted community, which is a secondary goal of the local food movement — to slow life down enough for people to connect with their neighbors.
“It seemed like some of [our neighbors] were meeting for the first time at the farm stand,” Melissa said. “They’ve lived in this neighborhood for years, they just hadn’t talked to each other.”
“The stand became a place for everyone to meet on one day a week for five minutes, which people really don’t have the opportunity to do in most neighborhoods,” Mike added.
Chris Hudyma, director of organizational development, employee training and community events at Edmonds Community College, invited the Mearnses to share their vision at the college. She heads a group committed to strengthening the communities of Lynnwood and surrounding cities by keeping food local.
“Our work is driven from a concern for our community’s health,” Hudyma said.
Though not officially associated with the international SLOW (sustainable, local, organic and wholesome) food movement, which was started in 1986 and has groups all over the world, Hudyma feels a kinship with it. As coordinator of The Celebration of Food Festival that is planned for May 20 in Lynnwood, she is bringing local farmers like the Mearnses, as well as cooks and other food industry professionals together to promote SLOW food.
“It will be a time for the community to come together and learn how to access and prepare local food, and how to grow their own gardens,” Hudyma said.
“Even if a few people are getting the majority of their food from us, they have changed how they are eating and how they are supporting agriculture,” Mike said. “It’s just a small percentage, but at least it’s giving people the option.”
My visit to Rubberneck Farms changed the way I view food. I learned from Mike and Melissa that kale and chard are easy to grow in our climate, and that they can be harvested year round. As I plan my own vegetable garden this year, I will include them in the crop.
The Celebration of Food Festival will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 20, at the Lynnwood Convention Center.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/FoodRevSnoCo